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[OT] sed expression wildcard bafflement

a friend just asked me about a shell script she's trying to write.
she's got a file that looks like this:

  blah blah thi. blah thi. blah blah
  blah thi. blah thi. blah blah blah

&c. -- lots of "thi."s in there.

she's trying something equivalent to:

  sed 's/$word1/$word2/g' file > file.new;

and it doesn't replace.

i can replicate this from the command line.  the only way i can make
it work is to type out

  sed 's/thi./this/g' file > file.new;

escaping the period in $word1 does nothing.

are we just misunderstarding the sed command somehow?  otherwise,
afa[we]k, this is totally weird ...



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